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Danish royals go ahead with controversial Saudi visit

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Crown Prince Frederik and Crown Princess Mary attend a 2014 Justin Timberlake concert with their son Prince Christian. Photo: Martin Sylvest/Scanpix
13:01 CET+01:00
Denmark’s Crown Prince Frederik and Princess Mary will follow through on their planned visit to Saudi Arabia, despite strong criticism from human rights organisations and opposition MPs.

The Danish Crown Prince Couple will take part in what has been labelled an “export promotion” trip that will take to both Saudi Arabia and neighbouring oil state Qatar from February 28 through March 3, public broadcaster DR reported.

The royal couple will be accompanied on the tour by a number of prominent politicians, such as Foreign Minister Kristian Jensen, Minister for Health Sophie Løhde and Minister for Food and the Environment Eva Kjer Hansen. A number of Danish business concerns will also be represented, including the Confederation of Danish Industry (Dansk Industri), the Danish Agriculture and Food Council (Landbrug og Fødevarer) and Health Care Denmark.

The primary aim of the visit is to strengthen ties within environmental sustainability, health, food, education and design, reports DR.

Frederik and Mary will visit members of the Saudi royal family as well as Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani during the tour.

Human rights groups and opposition politicians have criticised the royal couple for agreeing to visit a country that is regularly condemned for its human rights abuses.

See also: Royal pair's 'scandalous’ Saudi Arabia plans slammed

“Saudi Arabia is one of the most fundamental regimes in the world, where women are not allowed to drive and where death sentences are given for being homosexual,” Mette Gjerskov of the opposition Social Democrats told DR.

Gjerskov argued that a critical dialogue with Saudi Arabia was more important than trade relations, and that such a dialogue could not be taken up by Crown Prince Frederik and Princess Mary, whose roles are apolitical.

Last month, human rights organisation Amnesty International also criticised the then-rumoured visit.

“The timing could not be worse. Saudi Arabia celebrated the New Year by beheading 47 people, after a year that saw a huge increase in the number of capital punishments and also reduced freedom of speech. Sending a delegation of the reported calibre at this time sends a very symbolic signal that what is going on is acceptable,” Trine Christensen, Amnesty International Denmark’s acting general secretary, told news agency Ritzau in January.

Foreign Minister Kristian Jensen defended the decision to include the royals on the Saudi visit, pointing out that they are not expected to take a political role.

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“I am participating as foreign minister in order to have a critical dialogue with the Saudi government,” Jensen said to DR.

“We often visit countries that we disagree with politically, where we criticise their human rights situation, but where we want to continue a business-related dialogue,” Jensen continued. “This is an export promotion with the Crown Prince couple at the forefront, but not an official state visit.”

Jensen dismissed suggestions that Denmark and Saudi Arabia can be considered ‘allies’, saying that this was a “big word.”

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